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Tried and tested work out tips for beginners, from a fitness instructor-in-training.

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We are all hungry for fast results in this modern world. Technology has pampered us to expect things to happen instantaneously. A tap of your fingertip, quick fingers flying across the keyboard.

But I know for a fact that good things — the best ones — take time. You’d need to meander and go on a journey. You’d need to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. And all these take time.

This is true for fitness, too. There a few things about fitness that I wished someone had told me when I started to work out — so I’m sharing them with you now. Before I begin, I just want to say that there is really no one-size-fits-all approach for fitness (as with many other things in life, I suspect) and these tips are my own personal, honest opinions.

My motive? To make you feel less intimidated, because I know how that feels — and hopefully, give you the confidence to start somewhere. Permission absolutely granted.

1. Start small.

View full workout video here | Photo: ach

Fitness is no go big or go home. While it is good to be ambitious, it’s better to set small and achievable goals in reality.

Start with small tasks that are hard to fail, say, exercise for one minute a day (yes, you read me right, one minute is still better than zero). After one week of working out for exactly one minute a day, ramp it up to three minutes.

Because being able to achieve the goals you set is important, especially at the beginning when you’re feeling like an unfit lump of blah. Setting too difficult goals right at the start and then not being able to achieve it will only create a self-fulfilling failure loop that will make you feel bad about yourself.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself: Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to start small. You showed up in your workout gear, and that’s all that matters. You already beat thousands of others who didn’t work out today.

Start with something extremely simple, build momentum from there and I promise you will only get fitter.

2. Strive for progress, not perfection.

One year ago, I couldn’t even hold a modified side plank. Look at how much I’ve improved since then!

Strive for progress, not perfection.

I see many around me give up on exercising after a few tries because they think they are not fit enough to pursue fitness. I talked about how fitness is not exclusive to fit people in my previous article and I stand by what I said.

Just because someone tells you your butt is too high when holding a plank doesn’t mean you should not plank at all.

Just because you cannot do a push-up right now doesn’t mean you cannot do it one month later.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you know what? The trendy quote on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, that says “it takes years of effort to look effortless” is true for fitness experts as it is for successful entrepreneurs.

So don’t sweat how you look when you work out either. It is okay to not be able to perform an exercise so gracefully and easily like the fitness instructor you see in YouTube workout videos, because no one can do this so effortlessly nor have the perfect form on their first try! You are looking at that instructor’s 100th attempt at this work out. Don’t compare your first try to her 100th.

Just keep showing up on your fitness mat — every day — and keep making progress. Perfection is too overrated, and may even become our stumbling block. Just focus on incremental progress, and over time, you’ll get there.

3. It’s okay to take a rest.

Take a break in child’s pose. | Photo: ach

If you get tired, learn to rest; not quit.

I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I have never thought about giving up in the past one and a half years. I have my lazy, unmotivated days and sometimes I get stuck with work and family commitments and I don’t show up on my mat. But I don’t beat myself up about it.

Life happens, and we are but humans.

So I want you to know that it is perfectly okay to take a rest — but just make sure you are resting, not quitting. And that means showing up on the mat again, once you feel like you’ve rested enough.

It is important to listen to your body as well and take a good rest when you’re feeling tired, under the weather, or during your time of the month. It’s okay to hibernate for a bit, to recharge and rest. In fact, make a conscious decision to rest. Declare to your brain that you’d be resting for the next five days. Just plan when you’d return to working out.

And don’t feel like your efforts and time spent on your trainings would go to waste, once you take a break. Your efforts aren’t going to disappear in just a few days of rest — every drop of sweat shed means something. It means progress, and you’d have built a solid foundation.

If you feel like working out regularly is too hard to achieve and feel like quitting, I want you to consider the option of taking a break first. Take three days off and come back strong!

4. Know that your only competition is who you were yesterday.

Your biggest competitor is you. | Photo: ach

Looking at the sea of super fit influencers on Instagram in this social media age we live in today, I’d be the first to admit that there are still times when I feel intimidated by them. Like I’m not good enough to pursue fitness.

These people are so fit, their bodies so strong, their forms so perfect.

To be honest, I can only hold a plank for one minute — maximum — and the heaviest dumbells I can lift now is but 5kg… This is where I am at after one and a half years of consistent practice. Sometimes I ask myself, why haven’t I reached (insert any good fitness influencer name)’s stage?

But I know now that the fitness journey for everyone is different. There is always someone fitter than you, so this constant comparison with others who are better than you? It’s a sure way to make yourself unhappy and insecure. But as human beings, we love comparing. We can’t help it, it’s in our nature.

So how about a better comparison: compare yourself with the past you instead. Are you stronger now than 6 weeks ago when you first started? Can you hold a side plank now, when you couldn’t before?

I also came to realise that my pursuit of being fitter is completely unrelated to other people’s fitness levels or physical appearances for that matter. I want to get stronger and fitter, so I can feel and look good — and be the best version of myself. As soon as I understood this, I know that my only competition is the person in the mirror.

5. Get a good exercise mat.

Since I talked a lot about my tips on the mental and emotional aspect of my fitness journey, I thought I’d add in some practical advice too: if you can only afford one piece of fitness equipment, get yourself a good exercise mat.

In my opinion, a good exercise mat is one with a good grip, in a size that fits your height. A good fitness mat can make you feel more comfortable when you are working out, and give that additional padding between the hard floor and your body. It also gives you support and safety, as opposed to doing the workout on a slippery floor or surface.

When you feel comfortable and safe when working out, you’d be more likely to continue your workout routines. I once flew out of my living room and landed unceremoniously on the cold, hard floor when I was doing speed skaters without a mat. And boy did it hurt —it took me a few weeks to recover both physically and mentally!

6. Action speaks louder than words.

When I declared to my friends and family that I was determined to get fit at the beginning, no one took me seriously. They knew I had a penchant for quitting and giving up when the going gets tough.

I also felt small when my more athletic friends passed judgement without being sensitive to my feelings. When I turned to my family and loved ones for support, they asked me why I had to “torture” myself every day…

But I did it anyway. I got moving. Every day.

You see, I can’t expect them — including my loved ones — to understand what I was feeling because they’d never know how I feel. But as they saw me working out day in day out, they started to understand better. They knew I was serious about getting stronger.

So, my last tip here is to show with your actions, instead of just speaking the words. And of course, that will take time. If you persist, your friends and family would stop questioning you — instead, they’d ask where you got your motivation from and how you did it.   

Me before starting my fitness journey v.s. me now. | Photo: ach

I cannot guarantee a smooth sailing fitness journey with these tips, but I hope they will come in handy when you feel like giving up. Ask yourself, why do you want to be fitter? Is your purpose coming from within, or is it based on something external, that you want to be able to flex? It’s important to know your why as you embark on your fitness journey.

Then, picture yourself one year from now. What do you want your fitness levels to be like? What do you want your body to look like? I challenge you to take action right now, so that one year from now you can look back and thank yourself for starting what you did.

The best time to start your fitness journey was one year ago. The second best time is now.

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